Census Block Broadband Hostages

by Russ Steele

Sample Census Block
Red service denied, green service to 50Mbits

As the warm spring sun was setting over the Pacific Coast Range, the last rays were glinting off the end of the Comcast Aluminum Coax which was a little over 300 yards from my Mother’s porch. Too far away for a connection, said Comcast.  From that same porch, you could see the phone line swooping across the canyon tugging at the sugar pine where it was attached, before making its way through the woods and across the NID ditch and then down Banner Lava Cap to the AT&T distribution box just outside the gate at the Elisabeth George Water Plant. An old distribution box that was never upgraded to provide DSL service while we lived in the neighborhood. Every time we saw a tech at the box, we stop to ask when would it be upgraded?  Next year was always the answer.  The phone line to our house came from the same distribution box.

Desperate for some broadband beyond a dial-up modem, I purchased ISDN which was an improvement, but only good for email, browsing was way too slow to maintain some sanity. Our first break came when Comcast offered us 10 Mbps broadband. 

It was only the kindness of a cable installation technician that we even had cable.  We lived on the edge of the housing development, which was getting a cable upgrade.  Ellen was coming home after picking our daughter from school; a cable lift truck was blocking entry into our long driveway and my wife Ellen got out to chat with the technician.  How long was he going to be blocking the driveway? 

As the tech continued to work securing the cable, Ellen expressed interest in having cable TV, but we were not in the development. No problem said the tech; we can fix that, give me a little more time.  She turned around and went to visit my mother for a couple of hours and when she returned the shiny aluminum coax came all the way down our driveway. Years later we were blessed with 10 Mbps of broadband, which I upgrade to 25 Mbps after a few years. Before we moved to Lincoln, Comcast upgraded our 25Mbps to 50Mbps at no increased cost.

When the Federal Broadband Map was published I looked at our Census Block, and it was listed having Gigabit access, but the fastest I can get from Comcast was 50Mbps.  My Mother, Aunts Hazel, Aunt Dorthy her son Tom all lived in separate houses on adjoining property, and they could not get cable or DSL.  An LA Architect bought three acres and built a 2,500 square foot “cabin in the woods” planning to work from the cabin in the summer when his wife was not teaching dance in LA schools.

He was not a happy homeowner when he discovered that AT&T nor Comcast would provide him a broadband connection, and Smarter Broadband could not make a line of sight wireless connection, due to the interfering terrain. His dream of summers in the Nevada County woods, far from the hectic bustle of LA was dashed. He could not get any broadband coverage. Even the satellite guy turned him down due trees on a neighbors property block the view of the southern sky.  He could see the Comcast cable from his front door, but it was too far for a connection. His phone line was from the AT&T distribution box that was never upgraded before AT&T stopped selling DSL.   

Under the rules controlling the distribution or rural broadband funds, the broadband infrastructure was ineligible for an upgrade. The census block was listed as having Gigabit service, without regard to families that were unable to get a connection.  This is a problem in many rural areas, people can see the Cable, but it is more than 300 feet from the cable to the home. Cable companies impose the 300-foot limit due to cable loss over a greater distance.

My story is just one example of how the Federal and California broadband maps fail to reflect the real world. Yet, policy and funding decisions are made using these inaccurate maps. Potential broadband customers are held hostage by inaccurate maps and a failed infrastructure. 

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